2 November, 2018

Looking for technical lines in the Alps

Text: Pol Tarrés/Alex von Arend Images: @Raimonrg

All this adventure started at the national trial champs in Torredembarra when Pol Tarres (actual European bronze medal) and Alex von Arend, two passionate trial riders crazy about everything that has two wheels, started talking about how cool it would be to be able to do a roadtrip around the Alps, blending their trial technique with some high altitude enduro.

Pol and Alex design a tour in search of the best singletracks in Europe, some above 3000 meters. Raimon Rosich also joins in on the project, an enduro rider and off road cameraman in events like the Uniraid o DesertRaid in Morocco. He’ll be in charge of producing all of the media content.

After two months planning the group sets off the 6th of August at finve o’clock in the morning from Barcelona to Les Gets. The trip lasts seven long hours, and in the end they finally arrive to this beautiful ski station in the heart of the alps, where it has hosted the European edition of Crankworks for the last few years. In fact the fist thing the team sees is the impressive four meter berms featured in the finals. Its five pm, they shove the bags and gear into the hotel room and run to the ski lifts just before they close.

Of course they choose the black line in Les Gets bikeparck, and Alex has a close call on the last wallride, landing with both feet off the pedals on the landing. When they finish the team heads for the office du turisme to learn a bit more about the area.

We’re in Portes du Soleil, an immense area made of 12 joined ski resorts, both french and swiss. The most famous ones are Les Gets, Morzinne, Avoriaz, Champery and Chatel. I’m quite sure that the more enduro orientated fans have seen some pretty sick videos of the downhill lines they have, some of them designed by people like Nico Vinc. Our plan is not bike park orientated; we’re looking for unique singletracks far from the resorts, high above in some of the most beautiful peaks in the Alps.

The first day we decide to visit Les Crosets in Switzerland, and we use the skilifts to get there. It´s the most isolated part of Portes du Soleil, and the most spectacular because of its scenery. You have the Dents du Midi with some peaks above 3200 meters in the background, and the freeride routes on the mountain ridges are infinite. We decide to explore one of them that’s end up touring round an enormous unknown peak.

After nearly two hours of hard climbing we reach the top of the mountain, and the teams trial spirit kicks in and makes them decide to cut down straight though the rocks instead on going down the singletrack they had climbed before.

After 10 minutes of technical downhill though the rocks, our faces change when we see an enormous range of ice and snow on the north face of the mountain. The first one to try the decent is Alex, and after a few uncontrolled turns he throws himself to the floor after picking up to much speed. With a lot more control, Pol handles the decent quite decently. He didn’t get a podium at this year’s trial euro champs by chance!

Time starts flying by, and as our hotel manager warned, we start to be in danger of not being able to get back to Les Gets as some lifts close at five pm. That would be pretty annoying, especially being about 80 kilometres away from out hotel. We start our way back crossing many ski stations until we get to Morzine. We chat to some local riders and they show us a secret line that takes you directly to Les Gets.

It´s a super steep old sketchy downhill that hasn’t been looked after for years,  full of wet roots willing to make your front wheel slip every time they make contact. Halfway down, Pol loses control in one of the turns and falls down in what could have been a serious crash. Luckily he jumps straight up, unharmed, and we are able to continue.

The next day we wake up looking up into the sky. The weather in the Alps is very unpredictable, and what was a sunny day at nine in the morning turns out to be a thunderstorm two hours later full of mud, water and crashes. The team is surprised about the handling of the Rallon on the wet, getting more grip on the vertical decents than expected.

Two hours later we all start to get cold and decide to change our next stop. We had planned to go to Chamonix, but decide to go directly to our star destination: Zermatt.

Zermatt is a popular town in Switzerland where no fuel powered vehicles are permitted, just the use of electric cars, ambulances and police cars are aloud. This small town in the middle of the Cervino valley is at 1620 meter of altitude, and when we arrive we are greeted by a great mountain atmosphere.

We chat to some of the alpinists and some are about to start some pretty hard core expeditions to try and reach the summit of the Matterhorn. This spectacular and lonely 4478 meter high peak sits as the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its first ascent was in 1865, but on the decent, one of the members of the expedition slipped and dragged three more alpinists down. Even though all seven of the climbers were tied up, the rope broke and only three survived.

Next morning we decide to try and reach the top of Gornergrat. This is a huge natural balcony at 3090 meters of altitude surrounded by glaciers where you can clearly see both the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa, Switzerland’s highest mountain standing at an impressive 4634 meters.

There is a train that takes you up to the top, but once we find out it costs 120 euros (without the bike) we decide to cycle up and enjoy the views while doing so. It’s much harder that what we had in mind, but we slowly climb up, stopping for snacks and taking a few pictures of the impressive skyline in front of us.

Our Orbea’s surprise us with their climbing handling, and it makes the 1500 meters of elevation gain to the top much easier. It takes us about five hours to get to the top of Gornegrat. Alex is quite used to doing long cycle runs on his road bike, but just before reaching the top, some members of the team start to doubt if it’s worth it.  But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?

Once we get to the top the views are amazing. None of us had ever seen a glacier that stretches out so far so close before. After a well-earned break we start to plan what will be the best decent on a enduro bike ever.

We decide to improvise and link the incredible amount of singletracks that are available. The 160mm of the Rallon´s suspension combined with its 29 inch wheels suck up all the rocks and the natural berms, and the breath-taking views make it impossible for us not to stop at every turn to take pictures.

Our cameraman Rai starts to feel tired: Even though he´s on an e-bike, the 17 kilograms of camera gear on his back start to make him feel every muscle on his back. We all take turns with the backpack so that no one gets left behind. Once we arrive to Zermatt Alex checks his Garmin: 2345 of positive elevation gain, more than 9 hours on our bike, 48 kilometres in distance, and about 3000 burned calories.

We cycle down to Täsch where we had parked our car. We get there when it’s dark, super tired, but knowing this has been the most epic ride ever. We finish the day with some pizzas and some beers at a local restaurant, knowing that our trip is over, but planning our next destination… Iceland? The Dolomites? Madeira? Who knows!